I have read only very few works of Sethu so far - only a couple of short stories. I have earlier tried reading Niyogam and Kaimudrakal when they were being serialized in Mathrubhumi, but could hardly proceed beyond first two or three chapters. They appeared to me as something not coming from Heart, and I felt that it was more of an intellectual exercise to grasp what is said in those novels. Last month, I read quotes from Sethu in the DCB News, about his latest novel Marupiravi, which is his tribute to Chendamangalam, the place where he lived his childhood. I decided to take it as a challenge to read this novel completely, and soon I realized that it is not so hard as I had suspected it to be. I could hardly read more than ten or fifteen pages a day these days, irrespective of the readability of a book. Anyways, after spending a month on it, I finished reading the book today.
Marupiravi is told in three parts. The first part (which I felt as the most readable one) is about sixty year old Aravindan (partly a reflection of Sethu himself, perhaps), who had been working at a shipping company in Mumbai. After retirement, he visits his ancestral house at Chendamangalam, and meets many of his childhood friends. Aravindan had remained as a Malayalee in his heart in spite of being away from Kerala for most of his life. During some of the discussions with his friends who are interested in History, Aravindan finds the Writer in his mind waking up. His friends encourage him, and soon he starts jotting down the story of Muziris, the ancient port, which was supposed to be located near the present Pattanam-Chendamangalam area. The second part of the novel is a kind of "Novel-inside-novel", which is the story written by Aravindan, of a few fictitious characters of Muziris. This I found as rather yawn-inspiring, and I quickly flapped through the section to reach the third part of the book, where Aravindan comes back and meets a few older people living in the village, remembering the past, which is obviously a more recent history of the village.
Aravindan looks not at all confident about his writings. "Is it the right way to tell this story? Can these jottings be called as a novel?", he often asks himself. This is probably a dilemma of Sethu himself. This book hardly made any impact in my mind, forget about being a memorable reading experience. There have been novels in Malayalam in which history and fiction go in parallel to make unputdownable reading, (the recent Francis Ittykkora for example). Probably it is unfair to compare, since the purpose of Sethu's novel seems to be to entirely different, but I think a novel has to be at least interesting to read, to start with.